Pensioner wrestles with wheelchair service
Sheldon Williams, Sunday Gleaner Writer
With transportation for wheelchair-bound persons remaining a challenge, as most vehicles are not properly equipped to accommodate them, 71-year-old pensioner Neville Baker has started a mobility assistance service. He uses his 1999 Toyota Townace, which came equipped with a wheelchair ramp.
"Is a brethren tell me about it and tell me to check a brethren. He asked if you want it and I said yeah man," Baker explained how he came to acquire the vehicle. However, he admitted that he was not always upbeat about the ramp, as he had removed it shortly after the vehicle was purchased online and shipped to Jamaica.
Months later, after relaxing at home without having an active occupation, Baker had the idea of reattaching the ramp and offering wheelchair coach transport. However, after an encouraging start, he said business has been slow and he is even considering packing it in, as although people are interested, many times, they cannot afford it.
"I took a little youth from the University Hospital of the West Indies to Portmore and the lady was bawling, so I told her to just give me a money and she gave me $3,000," he said. "There is no special cost. There is not a limited price. I just leave it to your conscience," he added.
Because of financial constraints, Baker said persons continue to sacrifice comfort for cost. "As you see, when dem take the taxi dem bend up the wheelchair put inna the back and lift them (the person) up put them in the taxi. With this, you don't have to do any of that. You can go right into the church, hospital and bank - anywhere," he emphasised.
However, Baker made it clear that he also has a philanthropic side. "If I am going down Half-Way Tree Road or any of those roads and I see a gentleman pushing a old lady or old man in a wheelchair, I just drive up beside them and ask where you going. I can help. And I just open the back and put them inside and take them and I can't get more thanks," Baker said.
Baker said he works alone as, despite his age, he is in good health and the ramp is easily operated with the press of a button. "The switch is here and it is connected to the battery," he explained.
Baker caters to hospitals, nursing homes, rehab centres and private individuals, operating from his cell phones 391-6768 or 381-4218.